Breathing for excercise

“You Need To Breath To Exercise”

I know, right? Mind-blowing stuff. However, when was the last time you actually thought about your breathing as a conscious part of your workout. We spend time in the gym before each WOD going over technique for each movement we are performing that day. Your coach’s intent is to first and foremost keep you safe. We want to address the things that could be potential problem areas in a movement to make sure poor form does not lead to injury. After that, we want you to be able to perform that particular movement as efficiently as possible. I’ve shared with my classes in reference to a power snatch. If someone walked in off the street and had never touched a barbell before and I told them to grab one from the ground and put it over their head in one motion. They are almost certainly going to perform something that looks like a power snatch. Through technique and queuing though, we can make that movement much more efficient and powerful.

The same thing can be said for our breathing. Of course breathing is natural. It will adapt to our situation on demand (unless we have some other underlying health problem). Just like we can make our power snatch better with thoughtful practise, our breathing can also become better with practise. We want to breath with the frequency demanded by the given activity in the given moment, but not any more or any less. Our “reflex” of breathing is driven by the build up of carbon dioxide (our body’s “exhaust”) in our body; not by requiring more oxygen (our body’s “fuel”). So we need to balance our intake and outtake breathing.

Bare with me for an overly simplified summary of the respiratory cycle from some anatomy and physiology I have picked up in my days on Earth. We inhale air. Air enters our lungs. The air now in our lungs contains oxygen. Inside the lungs we have some upside trees. Oxygen goes to the leaves. The heart pumps moving blood by the leaves and our blood picks up that oxygen. That oxygenated blood is then pumped by the heart all throughout our body for all of our tissues to use as fuel. Carbon dioxide is created and carried back to the lungs by our blood and we exhale. Repeat. Over and over.

Let’s look at wall ball for example. A good practise is to maintain breath control of inhaling on the descent and exhaling on the ascent (or as the ball leaves our hands towards its target). An easy illustration is to think of your body as a piston in a cylinder. As the piston goes to the bottom of the cylinder, air enters to fill the space. As we rise and our body fills the cylinder, the air needs to leave. A wall ball looks very similar to a thruster in its intent and we can picture what it would like with a barbell movement. On the contrary, if we start off breathing too slowly, our body is going to be deprived of its fuel and die out. If we start out breathing too hard, our system is going to go into overdrive long before we need it to. Neither are beneficial for us in a WOD.

This then brings me back to the point earlier of “breath with the frequency demanded by the activity in the given moment”. There will come a time where our body demands more oxygen. As our heart rate increases (our engine is revving higher), we require more oxygen (more fuel for the engine) to be absorbed and delivered to our body’s tissues. As we said in the beginning, our body will naturally adapt to this. Once our body increases its life cycle, we need rest in order to bring it back down. No way around that. So, if we can keep that life cycle at normal operating level for a little longer into each workout, we are setting ourselves up for success.

Keep “breathing” in mind and try to pay some attention to a natural reflex. You might just be surprised how much better you can be by doing so.

Happy breathing!